From left: Sam Clovis, Scott Schaben and Matt Whitaker

(Des Moines, IA) Absence does not make the heart grow fonder at least not when it comes to grassroots politics.  Those missing from the debate overshadowed the Grand View University College Republicans U.S. Senate debate last night at the Krumm Business Center at Grand View University.  Sam Clovis answering the first question said, “you have to be present to win” referring to State Senator Joni Ernst (R-Red Oak) and Mark Jacobs being absent from the debate.

He addressed the absence again during his closing remarks.  “Tonight is an excellent demonstration of those who come out and address primary voters.  You have to be present to win.  You have to have the conviction and courage to talk to voters, and if you are not here you don’t deserve to be in the race.”

In a statement sent after the debate Clovis said, “The 2014 election cycle is upon us and it is time for the Republican Party to rebuild.  It is agreed that history and the polls favor Republicans.  What is not in our favor are the turf wars of the fractured base of the Republican Party.  We cannot be afraid or dismissive of the debate on issues within our own Party.”

“ I showed up tonight at the Grand View debate for two reasons,” said Clovis.  “One – I gave my word.  I have been at every forum and debate across this state regardless of the moderator, questions, sponsor, or location.  It is important for me to look Iowans in the eye and answer their hard questions.  Iowa Republicans need to nominate the very best against Bruce Braley in 2014.  By skipping another debate, Joni Ernst and Mark Jacobs have shown they are unable or unwilling to face the tough questions.”

“The second reason is because the goal of our campaign is to build a ground game – to build something special.”  Clovis continued.  “I also believe in a party closest to the people – to those on the ground.  Every day of the 2014 election cycle is a building day.  We must connect to the Republicans and the voters of Iowa.”

Clovis was not the only person in attendance last night who were hard on those missing.  It was a recurring theme with those Caffeinated Thoughts talked to before and after the debate.  Former Iowa GOP co-chair David Fischer asked, “Why wouldn’t every candidate want to come and answer questions from the generation that is going to end up paying the bills?”

The Ernst campaign originally committed to being at the event, but pulled out when the Polk County Republicans withdrew as co-sponsors of the debate.  Campaign spokesperson Derek Flowers told Caffeinated Thoughts said they didn’t pull out, but committed to a forum co-hosted by the Polk County Republicans where all candidates were said to be present.  “Neither of those parameters proved to be true.  We are happy to participate in well-run, professional events.  But, regardless of who ultimately sponsors the event, drastic changes to the hosting, execution, and participants of a major public forum at the last hour create a situation of unnecessary uncertainty.  We welcome future opportunities for Joni Ernst to visit with the students of Grandview,” Flowers said.

Alissa Ohl, communications director for Mark Jacobs, said they never made a commitment to attend, and only told event organizers that Jacobs was unable to attend.

A number of attenders, including Central Committee members, expressed their disappointment with the decision of the Polk County Republican Party to withdraw from the debate forum.

Polk County Republicans announced they were withdrawing their co-sponsorship on Tuesday this week after being denied access to the list of questions that were going to be asked of the candidates.  Sarah Brooks, chair of the Grand View University College Republicans, told Caffeinated Thoughts that April Linder, executive director, of the Polk County Republicans emailed her on Monday and said, “I request that the questions for the duly sponsored Senate Forum be shared with us no later than 11 am on Tuesday, April 15, 2014.  Should we not receive the forum questions by that time we will need to reassess our involvement, notify our members about attendance and we will contact your club advisor/sponsor at Grand View University.”

Brooks told Caffeinated Thoughts the reason they didn’t release the questions because, “We felt so strongly about letting students manage the debate and ask the questions.”

Will Rogers, Chair of Polk County Republicans, told Caffeinated Thoughts that they approached both Grand View and Drake College Republicans about doing a joint event.  When deciding on the event at Grand View being able to see the questions beforehand was part of the agreement they made with Grand View University College Republicans.  He said their intent was not to share the questions with any candidate, but they were concerned about potentially inappropriate questions.  “We trusted they would keep their end of the deal.  We allowed them to pick the moderator.  They were not very forthcoming with the information.  Needless to say the trust factor went down considerably.”

“We heard back from Sarah and she said, ‘we’re sorry you have to move on.’  She told us that Steve Bierfeldt at the Republican Party of Iowa said he would help,” Rogers added.

Kevin Hall at The Iowa Republican shared a portion of that email:

After I received your email I took the liberty of reaching out to Executive Director Steve Bierfeldt of the Republican Party of Iowa, and we will be advancing with their full support. When he heard that we might be able to use some help, Mr. Bierfeldt agreed to help out our organization in any way possible, from press releases in order to notify possible attendees, to any last minute planning for the senate debate forum, and anything in between.

Rogers also told  Caffeinated Thoughts. “I would have loved to have had a great event that promoted our candidates, promoted the party, the county Republicans and the Grand View University Republicans.”

Brooks told Caffeinated Thoughts that the Grand View College Republicans approached Polk County Republicans.  She said when she and one of the other chapter officers were elected to the Polk County GOP Central Committee they decided to approach them about getting involved.  She and co-chair of chapter also denied that being able to screen questions was part of the original agreement.

“Prior to all this even happening we agreed with Polk County that the questions would be decided by us, and would only be known by us, and they had no problem with that at the time.  Now they are saying that the agreement was that we would share the questions which is untrue,” Alec Kennedy, the co-chair of the Grand View College Republicans, told Caffeinated Thoughts.  Kennedy said arrangements were made with Joe Hertz, the secretary of the Polk County Republicans.

The debate itself was uneventful, and the questions were not uncharacteristic of those you’d expect from a debate forum hosted by college Republicans.

Approximately 70 people attended and thirteen questions were asked with each candidate being allowed to give a 90 second response with a 30 second rebuttal if needed.

College Education

The first question was related to the cost of education and what can be done to address rising tuition costs and student loan debt.  Both Clovis and Matt Whitaker said the Federal government needs to get out of the college loan business.  They also noted the need to increase competition in higher education and let the free market work.  Scott Schaben said that students need to be educated about student loan debt, and that they are stuck with paying off.  Whitaker noted that students can avoid loan debt.  “Kids need to understand that they don’t have to take loans.  We need to encourage college students to work,” he noted.


The candidates were also asked what can be done to better protect life and if they would support a personhood bill.  Whitaker said that we need to develop a culture of life.  He said he supports a personhood bill, and made reference to a personhood bill that Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has introduced in the past.  He reiterated that he did not want to criminalize women, but does believe life begins at conception.

Schaben also said he would support a personhood amendment.  He encouraged the used of the Hyde Amendment, which is meant to prevent federal funding of abortion, “as a hammer.”

Clovis said they can use the model of DOMA to advance an act of Congress on personhood.  He also stated that another aspect is the selection of judges and justices.  “My view of a litmus test for justices is if they understand natural law and where our rights come from,” Clovis noted.  He also said that a federal personhood law would be a good tool in the fight against abortion at the state level.

The Federal Reserve

Clovis said that the Fed needs to be audited every year.  He also noted that without strong fiscal policy from Congress to complement the monetary policy the Fed is supposed to administer we will continue to see problems.

Schaben said the Fed is already audited.  He noted that it is the decision-making process that people want audited.

Whitaker agreed that the Fed should be audited.  “The centralized banking system has failed,” he added.  Whitaker stated that we need to have something of real value to back up our dollar whether that is a gold standard or something else.  He said the Fed should have the sole focus of dealing with inflation only.


Whitaker said that states could try to nullify federal laws they deem unconstitutional, but said that we’ve moved so far beyond our constitutional framework that states have likely lost the will to do that.  It would be a bold move, but he doubts that states would do it.

Schaben said we need to have “respect for our federal government.”  He doesn’t see it happening, and believes that action needs to happen at the federal level.

Clovis said that states have the right to nullify, but added that the best remedy for nullification is to make sure that laws that are passed are constitutional in the first place.

Repeal of the income tax

Clovis said that the 16th Amendment ought to be repealed.  Once it is repealed, Clovis noted, we can then get rid of the IRS.  He emphasized his support of the Fair Tax, and stated that once the IRS is eliminated then the Federal government will lose its coercive power.

Schaben said he can agree with getting rid of the IRS and income tax.  He has  some concerns with the Fair Tax.  He noted that the tax code needs to be made simpler and that loopholes needed to be closed.

Whitaker opened with a joke, “Our tax code has five times the amount of words found in the Bible and none of the good news.”  He said he could support a Fair Tax, but some of the details would need to be worked out.  He said if the rate is too high it could encourage a black market.  He wants the tax code to be simple, fairer and flatter.  He also said we need to get rid of the IRS.

Foreign Aid

Whitaker said that the U.S. needs to stop giving aid to nations who don’t like us.  He encouraged less foreign aid and decreased aid to the United Nations as a result of their radical policies.  He also stated that we need to have less military intervention and be careful with every dollar that is taken from taxpayers.

Schaben said Congress needs to ask who we are giving it to and why, and then hold those receiving money accountable for how it is spent.  He noted that much foreign aid does not make it to those who need it.

Clovis agreed with Whitaker that Congress should stop funding nations that don’t like us.  He noted that he was a government sanctioned “gun runner” at one point during his career.  He said that investments to countries who support the United States is a good investment.  He noted the most corrupt organization to work with is the United Nations, and they are one of the reasons aid doesn’t make it to where it is supposed to go.

What role should the government play in marriage?

Schaben said that he doesn’t believe that government should be involved, that it is like a tax on a religious sacrament.

Whitaker said that marriage is between a man and a woman.  The Constitution doesn’t address it so it is a decision left to the states, but said a constitutional amendment is needed.

Clovis noted how religious liberty is impacted as a result of the debate and shift in the courts.  He said that you have a small group of individuals trying to seek protection under the 14th Amendment because of their behavior.  “We don’t need to establish a protected class based on behavior,” Clovis noted.

Medical marijuana

Clovis said to take it off the Class 1 list at the Federal level.  “I would be able to support as long as the evidence continues to accumulate that it has value,” he said.  Ultimately, Clovis noted, it should be a state issue.

Schaben said the war of drugs is not working.  He said he is favor of moving it from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 so states can decide how to deal with it.

Whitaker noted how unresponsive elected leaders in Iowa have been to the plight of those suffering from seizures, etc. and have testified how marijuana has helped.  He said if this can help those who are suffering then we should do it.

NDAA, freedom vs. security

Whitaker said the Constitution trumps any law.  If we lose our Constitution, we lose everything.  We have crossed the Rubicon if we imprison people without due process.

Schaben said that the Constitution is there to protect us.  What would our forefathers think?

Clovis said that NDAA and any act that violates the Constitution should be struck down.  He said he nearly lost his job speaking out against the Patriot Act.  He thought it would violate the 4th & 5th Amendments and it has.

Social Security

Schaben said we have to honor promises made.  It’s ok for younger people to opt-out, and that changes have to be made for those who have time to prepare for it.

Whitaker said Social Security should stay as it is for those who are already on it or close to retirement age.  He said the solution is not complicated, but partisanship needs to be dropped in order to fix it.

Clovis encouraged individual accounts that stays with a person, and a tiered plan based on age.  He said the same thing could be applied to Medicare.


Clovis noted that we are seeing the Russian Empire reestablishing its borders, and Crimea is native Russian.  He said border countries should be encouraged to join NATO, and that a missile defense system should be introduced into countries like Poland.

Schaben said that Congress is to oversee foreign policy, not dictate it.  He said none of the candidates in attendance has sat in on an intelligence briefing in a better part of a decade so they need to be better educated on it as they don’t have the full picture.

Whitaker said that Crimea should be allowed to self-determine, and that Ukraine is facing a very determined Russia who wants to expand its borders.  He said the answer is a strong NATO and European Union.  He said we should export natural gas to ensure they are not dependent on Russia for natural gas.  He would also like to see economic sanctions be implemented.

Do you support the Paul Ryan Budget?

Whitaker said he doesn’t have much enthusiasm for a budget that doesn’t balance the budget.  He said we need to cut foreign aid to countries who don’t like us and the UN, introduce baseline budgeting, and pass a balanced budget amendment.

Schaben said we need a path to solvency and we can’t keep going further into debt.

Clovis noted that only 12 budgets since 1932 delivered a surplus.  He is not in favor of the the budget and also said that we need a balanced budget amendment.  He stated we need to freeze spending and when revenues are higher than expenditures the surplus needs to be applied toward our debt.

2nd Amendment, How to address gun violence?

Schaben wants to see a 50 state carry permit, and allow carrying on college campuses.

Clovis noted his Gun Owners of America endorsement and that he is a carry permit holder.  He said that gun-free zones need to be lifted on military instillations.  He said the focus should be on improving the mental health system, not on gun control.

Whitaker pointed out that he is on the local council of the NRA and a strong advocate of the 2nd Amendment.  “I’d rather eat at a restaurant full of carry permit holders than a restaurant with none,” Whitaker said.  He noted that lack of an exchange of information within the mental health system has been a problem and more resources to improve the mental health system needs to be considered.

Closing remarks

Clovis used his time to criticize those not in attendance (see above).

Schaben reminded voters that he is running on a path to solvency and a 50 state carry permit.

Whitaker said he is running on a platform of standing up for liberty and freedom.  Freedom for Obamacare, economic freedom, religious liberty, and the 2nd Amendment.

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